How a toilet brought together 4 people on 3 continents with a special connection

Story by Catherine Cocke, photos by Brandon Smith

We traveled a long way for this moment: more than 7,000 miles, 3 flights, including on a propeller plane, and a 5 hour road trip along winding roads and through palm tree jungles.

We took this journey to the Philippines to visit Kiva borrowers and to find 1 special borrower in particular: Lorebel. Finally, we take the short walk through banana trees to her home.

Lorebel lives on one of the more touristy islands in the Philippines, but as she watches our Kiva photographer and me approach, her eyes grow wide. We are the first foreigners she’s ever seen.

Lorebel is special for a lot of reasons (just look at that joyful smile), but what brought us here is that Lorebel helped Kiva cross an incredible milestone. On June 22, 2017, Kiva’s community of lenders hit $1 billion in loans to over 2 million borrowers, crisscrossing the world with connections of care and support.

That moment symbolized so much for Kiva, which started with an unproven idea that strangers would embrace the chance to support each other. Hitting $1 billion solidified that small acts can add up to monumental change, and that billionth dollar went to the hardworking borrower who now stands before us.

Lorebel lives in a small shack with 1 room, where she and her family sleep, and an adjoining patio used for cooking and hanging out. Just outside the shack sits a second structure made of a concrete floor and 4 wooden poles holding up tarp walls. “This is what I used my loan for!” Lorebel exclaims, as she pulls back the tarp to reveal what Kiva’s billionth dollar funded — a toilet!

Lorebel’s home recently went through a massive remodel, and she is thrilled to show it off. Before taking out the loan for her new toilet, Lorebel and her family went to the restroom in the bushes surrounding her home.

More than 2.3 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets, according to the World Health Organization. Improved sanitation helps prevent many diseases, including intestinal worms and malnutrition.

“I was ashamed that we had no toilet. I felt as an adult I should already have one for my kids,” Lorebel says. “[Now] I am so happy and proud.”

Over 8,500 miles away lives Jon of Rochester, New York. He was introduced to Kiva through his daughter Laura, a volunteer loan editor with Kiva’s Review and Translation Program.

A former chief financial officer with a CPA and MBA in finance, Jon knows the power of capital and was drawn to Kiva because it allows individuals to tear down the barriers that keep folks from accessing credit: “You can make a difference in all parts of the world where people never would’ve had a chance. Nobody lends $25 in these places!”

Sitting at his computer on June 22, Jon saw Lorebel’s photo on his screen and read that she only needed $25 more to complete her loan, something he often looks for when choosing a borrower.

With a click of his mouse, Jon relent the Kiva credit he had in his account that had helped so many others and would now fund a toilet in the Philippines. “I take particular joy in Kiva,” Jon remarked to us. “On Kiva you see a person! What an idea!”
As Jon pointed out, a loan is more than just a loan on Kiva, for behind it stands a person with a unique story of hard work and perseverance.

For Lorebel, her day starts by taking care of her home and her children before selling fish at the market in town each evening. Whatever she does not sell, she carts back to her house, where she also grabs 2 large buckets full of ice.

Promptly at 8 p.m., she rushes down to the port to greet the fishermen who have returned with more stock of fish. After loading the fresh fish into the 2 ice buckets, she lugs them back up the hill to her home, where she rubs oils on her achy shoulders and lower back before prepping dinner for her family. The next day, she repeats the same routine. It’s a physically grueling job, but she says she is happy with this work because at the end of the night, she can go home and be with her family without having to do anything more for her job.
Most of Lorebel’s days are similar, but as I sit down on the bench beside her, I describe the significance of her loan and how people around the world supported her on Kiva. As she learns that her toilet loan was made possible by Jon and other lenders like him, her eyes light up, and she laughs a deep belly laugh. Her quiet demeanor turns jovial and playful learning that Jon in the United States read her life story and chose her to support. “How do you feel?” I asked. “Happy!” was her joyful response.

It takes a village to share stories like Lorebel’s with people on Kiva. Jaypee, who works for Kiva’s Field Partner NWTF in the Philippines, which issued Lorebel’s loan, goes into the office every day excited to share fellow Filipinos’ stories with people around the world through Kiva. Sitting down at his desk in the branch office, Jaypee ruffles through surveys collected by loan officers which detail the lives of borrowers and sets out to turn these details into the stories you read on Kiva.

One of the many unsung heroes of the Kiva ecosystem, Jaypee has written up the stories of thousands of people around the world so that their dreams can be backed by Kiva lenders. During the week, Jaypee is improving the lives of people all over the Philippines. On the weekends, he is a relatable 20-something who loves taking selfies and watching the Twilight series movies with his friends.

In the United Kingdom, one of our more than 400 volunteer translators and editors picked up the story of Lorebel that Jaypee had written, edited for language and punctuation issues, made sure the loan complied with Kiva’s policies, and sent it off to go live on Kiva for fundraising where Jon would soon see it. Anna, a British researcher in health issues in low- and middle-income countries, has edited over 2,700 loans in just her first 6 months as a volunteer and burst into tears upon hearing she had edited the 1 billion dollar loan.

Anna, on the right, celebrating Holi with her mother in Kathmandu

“There’s something incredibly satisfying about knowing that in the few minutes it’s taken me to edit a loan, someone else is getting a cow, or a new toilet, or paying for their daughter’s education,” she said, describing why she volunteers with Kiva.

Lorebel, Jon, Jaypee and Anna, connected by 1 small loan for a toilet in the Philippines, represent the millions of people around the world who make up the Kiva community and are taking small actions every day to build a better world.

“I’m not ‘special,’” Jon shared. “I’m just a tiny part with 66 loans and only a few hundred dollars deposited.” But that’s the beauty of Kiva: You don’t have to be a billionaire to help make a billion dollars in change.